It’s only an advantage to play your game first if you get the points under your belt. Both Juventus and Napoli had a shot at trying to plant a seed of doubt in Rudi Garcia’s mind on Wednesday night. Both teams managed it, but it could hardly have been in different styles.
The Partenopei had, on paper, the tougher task on the road to Fiorentina and so it proved to be. Two sweetly-finished goals from Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens with a Giuseppe Rossi penalty sandwiched in between gave them a half-time lead. They were put under severe pressure for the rest of the game but they held out – if only just.
The most contentious moment came late in the game when Juan Cuadrado thought he had won a penalty but was, instead, booked for the second time for diving and sent off. Napoli were already down to 10 men themselves after Christian Maggio was sent packing, but they kept their shape to fend off Vincenzo Montella’s men. If clinical finishing wins titles, Rafa Benitez might have another trophy to polish come the summer.
It was a more straightforward task for Juve against a Catania side which has yet to see any positive effects from the appointment of Gigi De Canio. Andrea Pirlo celebrated his Balon d’Or nomination with a trademark free-kick which was possibly the pick of four goals for the Bianconeri. If this is a crisis, most other teams would love to be suffering one.
Defeat to Napoli killed Fiorentina’s hopes of overtaking Inter who had only managed a draw with Atalanta on Tuesday night. It also allowed those heroes from Hellas to catapult themselves back up the table with a win over Samp. A comical swing and a miss before he thumped the ball home saw Luca Toni add the second goal which clinched the victory for Verona.
Elsewhere, an old-school Kaka finish was not enough for Milan to get the three points they desperately craved at home to Lazio. Vlad Petkovic’s men fought back with a show of character under driving rain and equalised through Michael Ciani. A point, however, was probably a frustrating reward for both teams.
A share of the spoils came in more madcap style in Livorno. Torino got off to a flyer with two goals in less than 10 minutes but they have shown themselves capable of throwing away a lead before and so it proved again. The Tuscan side drew level and overtook them before an Alessio Cerci penalty saw the match finish in an incredible 3-3 scoreline.
Udinese got over their first home defeat in more than a year with a precious three points away to Sassuolo while Alberto Gilardino redeemed himself for having a penalty saved by scoring the only goal in the game to see Genoa down Parma. The other winners were lowly Bologna, who showed that keeping faith in your Coach can be no bad thing. A 3-0 away triumph over Cagliari allowed Stefano Pioli to breathe a little more easily. They have been playing better than their League position suggests and should be able to float towards safety in the weeks to come.
That might prove a tougher ask for Giuseppe Sannino at Chievo Verona with that trip to Roma on the horizon. It looks like a formality for Rudi Garcia’s men in a classic top versus bottom clash to make it 10 wins out of 10. But football does not always follow the script we all imagine and, at the very least, Juve and Napoli have given them something to think about.